Just for reference, Ontario is large enough that when the provincial government decided to protect 222,000 square kilometers (56 million acres) of boreal forest from development in July of 2008, comparisons were drawn. For example, 222,000 square kilometers is equal to the entirety of the U.S.’s road-less areas, half the size of Texas, or the size of Uganda if you’re of a more worldly mindset. Amongst environmentalists there was much rejoicing.
I’m rejoicing too, for entirely different reasons.
Draped over the rocky Canadian Shield, boreal forests scenically have been struggling to reach pleasant, let alone spectacular. Ontario has been this ride’s “limbo” and just when I thought Ontario the “massive” would never end a sign heralds a new province, Manitoba.
Along the southeastern edge of the Manitoba-Ontario border lays Whiteshell Provincial Park; taking the direct route the park is only about 130kms east of Winnipeg. It’s all about a shotgun blast of small lakes in the Canadian Shield, and boreal forests, but with one difference – the road through Whiteshell has corners. Despite warnings of rough roads I point the Multistrada up the 44.
Something more important is happening. Every kilometer I ride the weather is getting incrementally better. The sky clearing. The temperature creeping timidly upwards. The humid chill swept off Lake Superior abating. The Multistrada capers and larks as the 307 winds along lakeshores and marshes. This is the last of it then, a sign-off from the non-linear school of road construction before the laser pointer straight causeways of the prairies.
A series of establishments and homes scattered along the 307, Seven Sisters Falls is not a buzzing metropolis, small town might fit, but community has a better feel. I almost ride past Jennifer’s, but the number vehicles out front the cafe tugs at my unconscious.
The vehicles aren’t incongruous, they are a beat-up 90’s rough trade of Manitoba winter scarred cars, trucks, and minivans, but they are here in numbers. It’s the signal of something popular, and often when something is popular there is a reason.
According to a sign out front Jennifer’s has re-opened only the day before, and is “OPEN all winter”. The implication being that life is seasonal here, or winters devastating.
The quaint exterior, with a hard to find entrance off the covered and mosquito meshed sundeck, gives way to a spotlessly clean, cheerfully yellow painted interior with a slightly eastern European sensibility to it. Everything telegraphs friendly, tidy, sensible and efficient. There is no hint of greasy spoon about the place, and then I open the menu.
The lead item is Exotic Soup, a daily creation whose description marks a flavour safari; alligator, octopus, kangaroo, elk, frog, quail… for under $4.00. Numerous zoological unfortunates share the billing. The rest of the menu is as deliciously outrageous, around me while farmers are tucking into schnitzel, an elderly woman asks about the quail. Incongruous to the mud-caked vehicles out front, here on the border of the prairies sits a foodie outpost.
I’m in luck, Jennifer and her husband Chef Joez, are just back from a year’s travel throughout Canada and the US. Undoubtedly the more innovative cuisine of both countries played a role.
The baby octopus and vegetable soup is slightly sour, fresh and flavourful, featuring infant mollusks tender enough to cut with a spoon. My biggest regret looking over the rest of the menu is that I’ve but one stomach to fill and have mistakenly ordered salad for my main.
Jennifer is from Montreal, and Joez is Slovakian. This restaurant is the result of an ongoing passion, vision and love of each other and the industry. Light conversation brings the topic around to “why here”?
“It’s affordable,” responds Jennifer. “We can follow our dream here.” So often the prairies these days are about people following oil-boom avarice in Saskatchewan or joining the petroleum explosive growth of Alberta; it’s heartening to meet people like Jennifer and Joez, following their hearts rather than dollars.
Pointing the Multistrada westward, I hope this is a new “theme” of the prairies. Well, that and sunshine. The temperature is climbing, and by the time I’m on the outskirts of Winnipeg I’ve had to pull the liner from the Ducati Tex Motard Jacket. For the first time this trip I’m too warm.
Read and Watch the Entire: Ducati: Many Roads of Canada Series